Marcos’ Taiwan remarks, a display of diplomatic resolve, says analyst

Marcos’ Taiwan remarks, a display of diplomatic resolve, says analyst

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES appears to be bolder in asserting its will in foreign affairs and displaying its ability to act independently amid pressures from China, as shown when President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. recognized the election of Taiwan’s new leader even as Manila continues to adhere to the One China Policy, an analyst said.

“This is all about Manila making an effort to assert its agency,” Joshua Bernard B. Espena, who teaches international relations at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

By mentioning “agency,” Mr. Espena was referring to Manila’s ability to exercise its will without and despite persuasions and threats from other foreign actors.

He said such was showcased in the recent exchange of pleasantries through X posts between Mr. Marcos and Taiwan President-elect William Lai Ching-Te, who has been denounced by China as a dangerous separatist.

Describing the incident as a “significant evolution in regional geopolitics,” Mr. Espena said the Philippines is gradually settling itself in a more comfortable position to keep China’s behavior in check.

The latest victory of the Democratic Progressive Party in a free election was an acknowledgement of Taiwan, which has governed itself independently of China since the 1940s.

In an X post on Monday night, Mr. Marcos congratulated Mr. Lai and said he looks forward to “close collaboration, strengthening mutual interests, fostering peace and ensuring prosperity for our peoples in the years ahead.”

“On behalf of the Filipino people, I congratulate President-elect Lai Ching-te on his election as Taiwan’s next president,” he said as world leaders, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, recognized the new Taiwanese leader.

In his response, Mr. Lai recognized the “enduring friendship” between the Philippines and Taiwan. “I look forward to enhancing our economic and people-to-people ties while championing democracy, peace & prosperity in the region,” he said on X.

Following Mr. Marcos’ remarks, the Philippine foreign affairs department said the country continues to uphold the so-called One China Policy.

Mr. Marcos’ congratulatory statement was “his way” of thanking Taiwan for hosting about 200,000 overseas Filipino workers, the agency said on Tuesday. The two countries “share mutual interests.”

Under a joint communique signed by late president Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. and Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in 1975, the Philippines recognizes the People’s Republic of China as “the sole legal government of China” and respects its position that Taiwan is “an integral part of Chinese territory.” Mr. Marcos’ statement prompted the Chinese government to summon Philippine Ambassador to China Jaime FlorCruz “to give the Chinese side a responsible explanation.”

Mr. Espena said it seems that the Philippines is adopting a flexible and assertive approach to interpreting the One China Policy.

“The Philippine government is increasingly becoming much more willing to bear the risk of asserting agency and keeping threats in check,” he said, “by interestingly poking its wounded spots that are the Taiwan Strait.”

The Chinese government is “strongly dissatisfied” with and “resolutely opposes” the Philippine President’s remarks, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a regular news conference.

She accused Mr. Marcos of violating the so-called One-China principle and supposed “political commitments” made by the Philippines to China in the past.

But Aries P. Arugay, head of the University of the Philippines’ political science department, said the joint communique signed by Manila and Beijing in the 1970s was a bilateral agreement and that any violations “should be mutually agreed by both parties.”

“You cannot really have just one country saying ‘Oh you violated the One China Principle!’ Because if you look at the joint communique, there’s nothing that bars any heads of state or any Philippine president from making remarks such as what President Marcos has done,” he said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.

“At the end, China gets to decide when the One China Policy is violated,” he said, noting that Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian last year pressured Manila to oppose “Taiwan independence” if it really cares about the 150,000 overseas Filipino workers living there.

The Philippines has always abided with the principle since it has only maintained unofficial relations with Taiwan through the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Manila, according to Mr. Arugay.

He noted that the foreign ministry of Singapore, which also adheres to the Chinese policy, also congratulated Mr. Lai but it did not get a “condescending” reaction from Beijing.

“China, at the moment, does not just have a lot of tolerance with the Marcos administration,” he said. “Short of kowtowing to Beijing, there’s nothing that the Marcos administration will do that will please China at the moment.”

Mr. Marcos, 66, has veered away from his predecessor’s pivot to China, boosting the Philippines’ ties with the United States and its allies such as Japan and Australia.

The Philippine leader in February announced a decision to give the US access to four more military bases on top of the five existing sites under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation, angering China, which said the move threatens regional peace.

Three of the new EDCA sites are in parts of northern Luzon facing Taiwan while one is in the island of Palawan facing the South China Sea.

Mr. Arugay said the EDCA expansion indicates that the government’s views that the regional environment has “become more uncertain,” citing “flashpoints in recent years that include the Taiwan Strait.”

“If you are pursuing an independent foreign policy, you plan for the worst case scenario,” he said, noting that a potential invasion of Taiwan would probably lead to the “largest repatriation in Philippine history of OFWs.”

“For the Marcos government, we plan for the worst and use whatever tools that we have,” he said, “one of those is the supposed ironclad military alliance with the US as well as strategic partnerships with other countries.”

Following Mr. Lai’s victory, Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson, Chen Binhua, said the vote “will not impede the inevitable trend of China’s reunification.”

It will not change “the basic landscape and development trend of cross-Strait relations,” he said, adding that Beijing’s stance on “realizing national reunification remains consistent, and our determination is as firm as rock.”

In criticizing Mr. Marcos’ remarks, China’s Mao Ning went as far as asking the Philippine leader to “read more books to properly understand the ins and outs of the Taiwan issue, so as to draw the right conclusions.”

“For us Filipinos, we must always ask: Is China treating us with respect?” Mr. Arugay said. “That is critical in any change in Philippines-China relations. The notion that we must negotiate because China is a strong power does not speak well of our identity as a proud Republic.”

“A truly independent foreign policy of the Philippines means that it doesn’t really need to think about how China will react to anything that it does.”

“If a more friendly party won in the Taiwan election like the Kuomintang party, would their reaction be the same? he asked. “I think, in the end, China didn’t like the results because the Taiwanese people sided with the incumbent, the Democratic Progressive Party, which has a stronger stance against Beijing.”